By focusing on the ratings, 'Scapers are playing by the rules of the television industry. The problem is, no one knows whether those rules even apply anymore. There is a growing sense in the broadcasting industry that the governing business model is dysfunctional. Most media executives agree that scripted television programs (i.e., sitcoms and dramas) are too expensive to produce and don't guarantee audiences large enough to justify higher advertising rates and cover costs. To make matters worse, media companies rely on data collected by an outmoded and flawed ratings system, which remains heavily reliant on the paper "viewing diaries" collected by Nielsen.
Acknowledging the industry dissatisfaction with its system, Nielsen recently introduced its "People Meter," a semi-Orwellian set-top device that monitors who is in the room and what they're watching on TV. About 5,000 families currently coexist with a People Meter, and the "overnight ratings" Nielsen accumulates from them have become crucial figures that can make TV careers, or end them.
Even if ratings were collected with absolute accuracy, it might not be enough for an industry that prefers to chase after elusive demographic segments instead of cultivating advertisers eager to reach the audience that's already watching. In "Farscape's" case, Sci Fi wanted the show to perform better with boys. But the show has already attracted a broad audience, including large numbers of women attracted to the show's strong female characters, feminist storylines, and the sexual tension between human John Crichton and his alien flame, Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black).
The Neilsen system is not only outdated, it is rejected by anyone with a sense of self worth. As one who has been targeted as a Neilsen household, I know just what their approach is. You get a diary in which you're supposed to keep track of every show that you watch. That's fine, I suppose I can handle that. But wait, they add an insult to it. There's a $1 bill in the envelope and a letter that says, "If you were honest about what you put in the diary, please keep this dollar. If not, please return it with the diary." That's got to be the biggest load of crap I've ever read, yet it was there in black and white in front of me. Granted, it may be more than $1 (I participated in the mid 90s, though, so it's not *too* long ago) today but I doubt by much.
Using 5,000 households to track the viewing habits of 200 million people is just patently wrong. Like the article states, you then have to hope that those 5,000 people have more than a basic cable subscription and can get the SciFi Channel!
One of the current 'Scaper tactics that was overlooked in this article is in patronizing the advertisers. There are web sites that list who advertised each week and fans are encouraged to let them know how much the corporate support is appreciated. I'm sure that has to make some level of impact, but probably not until the series is already gone.